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Applying Statistics

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Applying Statistics

 

If we asked, “Do you know your community?” most of you would say, “Yes, I know the community I serve.” You know the demographics, you know the population, you know the general make up of it. Yes, you know your community.

But your own personal experiences shape your view of the communities you serve. If we encourage you to broaden your perspective, you’ll find resources and tools to help you look at your community from outside your personal experiences—perhaps shedding a new light and a providing a new vision.

If you are reading this post, you are not satisfied with a simple answer or benchmark and are ready to move beyond business as usual. Congratulations to you! You’re eager to position your business more strategically.

Find the Data

You have data that paints an overall picture of the market: disposition data, what motivates consumers, what they’re buying, etc. Understanding statistics is a good way to forecast your business’s future. Start with the data you collect at your funeral home. Train your directors and apprentices on the specific things that should be entered into your computer software. From this, you can tell where your deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, the race, the average cremation sales average—all with just a few requests through the software program.

Then there are trusted sources of information for our industry to get a big picture of the forces at work.

Be sure to visit your local public library. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting business data.

Apply the Data

Assume that you do nothing to expand or change services to cremation families over the next five years. Find the cremation rate of your state or province and your business. Compare those rates against the rate of cremation growth and your total calls. Think about your sales averages now and consider what they will look like projected in the coming years. Ensure your casketed burial sales are not subsidizing your cremation sales. The number of deaths is increasing but so is the cremation rate, both of which are projected to increase for the next 20+ years.

Initiate this exercise with your staff at the next staff meeting: Engage them in tracking a variety of your business transactions. Keep a record of each keepsake sold, each special request fulfilled, etcetera and log them in your software to help you build a better data set and transform your numbers into solid metrics. An added benefit to this training is your staff becoming more conscious of interactions and opportunities. Discuss the trends and experiences you all have regularly to learn from each other. New package opportunities may emerge. Trends and feedback may drive marketing language. Your people, employees, colleagues and families are your best champions through their own behavior and interactions.

As the cremation rate climbs, steadily, with an anticipated plateau north of 70%, metrics and statistics become increasingly important. Cremation customers want personalized experiences and therefore your service offerings will be transformed. Your revenue mix becomes more complex and margins shrink so every family served matters. Every option every time can be overwhelming, or it can be your core.

The number of deaths are increasing and will do so for the next 20+ years. The cremation percentage, and therefore numbers, will also increase. So now,

  • What does this mean for your business?
  • How will you define your business in a crowded cremation marketplace?
What's Your Blind Spot?

We all have them. Those unknowable unknowns that no book, report, or presentation will answer. We assert that your blind spot is understanding who your competition is and how much market share you hold. It is nearly impossible to quantify as businesses become more specialized and competition more fierce. Keep counting obituaries and tracking your nearby funeral homes and cremation societies. But be aware of other sources of competition. For instance, the statewide online service that offers direct cremation and provides solutions to boomers making arrangements out of state.

Business Planning with Data

After reviewing your data, you may find you need to grow. Look at the numbers again and determine how much you need to grow to remain profitable in your developing market. Then calculate whether that amount of growth is possible—and we’ll go ahead and tell you that yes, it is entirely doable! Let’s look at three main strategies for growth: acquisition, organic growth within your current market, and redefining your market.

“But we’ve been trying to grow for several years and so far it hasn’t worked!” you say? That means you’ve got to do something new. This blog post will ask you to do something a little different, to think a little bit outside of your norm, and help you understand why there is value in that. Let’s look at what this means financially. Look at your data and look at your goal in terms of sales revenue. Let’s say that 20% growth is 20 additional calls and $140,000 of additional revenue. Long-term, that’s $100,000 in profit and an additional $500,000 in business value. Imagine if you increased those figures. So, we ask you, “Is it worth it to look at things differently and to really understand the community?”

Strategy #1 • Acquisition

Whenever you look at growth the first strategy to explore is acquisition. It’s a good strategy. But depending on the amount of growth you want to see, it may not be feasible. What capital is needed to buy a new business and how long will it take to recoup? If your goal for growth is only an additional 20 calls, buying a new business is would be over the top. If you do have your sights set higher, we refer you to the expert consultants who work to evaluate businesses for sale and growth. This piece is about statistics, so we’ll move on.

Strategy #2 • Organic Growth

Achievement through organic growth, means getting more from the resources that you currently have. The easiest way is to start by asking consumers how they chose you, typically in your aftercare survey. For many of families, the choice is based on personal experience. They already know the funeral director or firm. This means you want to get your funeral directors active in the community to build that awareness so that when the worst happens, people will look to you for support. Some consumers are motivated simply by location and convenience. You can’t relocate, but you can look at ways to make your location more convenient. What can you do to bring people back into your funeral home on a more regular basis so it’s part of their lifestyle?

In both cases, you want to take a look at your Aftercare and Outreach programs. Open your doors to the community to reach new sectors. Interact with them so they get to know your staff and build those relationships. Find ways to bring people into your funeral home at times that are not the emotional stress of a funeral, but throughout the year on an ongoing basis. Get people involved through social media and raise awareness of the funeral branch.

Your aftercare survey tells you about families you’ve already served and how to find more people like them—but for organic growth, you’ll need to look at the demographic data to understand your broader community.

A good place to start is evaluating your self-imposed service area. How did those boundaries get drawn? Your consumer doesn’t know that you’re constrained to a particular geographic area, so maybe you can push those borders a little further. Will your community drive a little farther for your services if you demonstrate the value they provide? Then take a look at pre-need. If you already have a program in place, look at the ages of your population. If 20% or more of the total population is 55 or older, you have what’s considered a “target-rich community” for pre-need. What can you do with your business and with your existing resources to capture additional calls through pre-need? Again, there is opportunity here.

Demographic Data Sources

There are so many data sources for demographic information that can serve as a great starting point.

Be sure to visit your local public library where they’ll have local and county reports on demographic data. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting demographic and business data.

Strategy #3 • Redefining Your Market

The third strategy is hardest to sell because it’s time- and effort-intensive. If you can do more with what you have, are you willing to go beyond what is traditionally considered your market and proactively look at the total market? Can you market your business as a funeral home for everyone in the community? Is there value in changing your marketing program? Look at the numbers and interpret what they’re really telling you.

Examine the growth of the minority sections of the community. The funeral home of the future will need to respond to all of the growing and developing cultures in the community. Even if you stay in your primary market area today, your market is changing. You need to start establishing new relationships in the community, changing your reputation so that you are the best funeral home for the entire community.

No matter where you are on the spectrum of cultural diversity, the more you reach out to understand and interact with the community, the more you can identify opportunities for growth. And this might not mean other ethnicities or religions. As CANA’s own demographic research pointed out, cultural shifts are occurring at every level and your old standby methods will not continue to serve us for long.

Putting a Plan into Action

It’s very easy for us to tell you how to do this. It’s easy to list these options and describe how they work in theory. But we know it’s not always so easy to implement these changes.

We also know that there are many resources out there. Go back to the start of this post and you’ll see recommendations for finding statistics reports and evaluating your situation. Look at your community. Evaluate your choices and envision the changes you might make. It may be scary to do this, but it’s even scarier not to.


Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 51, Issue 2: “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” as transcribed from CANA Board Members Archer Harmon and Erin Whitaker’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled “Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America.” Some of this post was originally written for “The Answer is in Your Numbers” by Barbara Kemmis and Bob Boetticher, Jr. and published in The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, 2016 Ed. by Kates-Boylston.

Special thanks to Erin Whitaker for her Data Collection Tips, available as a free pdf.

Members can read the full article with specific examples of connecting with and meeting the needs of rising diverse populations in the community in Vol. 51, Issue 2 of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.

Tags:  aftercare  statistics  tips and tools 

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Unclaimed Remains: Proactive Solutions

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 10, 2017
Unclaimed Remains: Proactive Solutions

 

Recently, Michigan consumer media was alarmed to learn that a funeral home had stored cremated remains in a storage locker. Worried about nefarious dealings, reporters asked if this indicated criminal activity. Asked for comment, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association assured that possession and storage of unclaimed cremated remains is common.

Indeed, the new owners of the funeral home had followed best practices by identifying the cremated remains and attempting to find families. The previous owner encountered what many do – the families had abandoned the cremated remains at the funeral home. Under Michigan law, cremated remains only need to be stored for six months before they can be respectfully placed, but the staff at many funeral homes balk at taking further action. They are troubled by the idea that cremated remains could be irrevocably separated from loved ones.

A recent issue of The Cremationist discussed this very topic. The answer, simply, is to take proactive steps to emphasize the value of permanent placement in all discussions with families and to encourage them to make a deliberate decision. For many, cremation is valued because it adds time and flexibility to make these important decisions, so they tend to endlessly defer them. Three industry professionals offered their recommendations for helping families make a choice that is right for them and appropriate for the storage space available in their funeral home.


A Question of Value by Steven Palmer

The question I pose to families choosing cremation is, “what would you do for a final decision if you hadn't selected cremation?” Now ultimate determinations must be considered.

To assist them in this thought process, I tell them not to think in the short term, but think eternally. If a casket is placed in a permanent resting place, why not an urn? Scattering is an option only to be chosen when it is well thought out and meaningful. It should not be performed because “we couldn't think of anything else.”

Other options to suggested may be:
Family Heritage Plot: Where are your grandparents or great-grandparents buried? In a large family lot back home? I am sure that there is space for an urn to reunite family.
Veterans Cemeteries: When an employee's husband died and was cremated, I suggested he be placed in a local national cemetery, taking advantage of this no cost benefit he had earned. She mentioned his mother's urn needed final placement somewhere. I inquired whether her father-in-law was a veteran. He was, an honorable discharge and marriage certificate were produced and, even though the father-in-law was interred in another state, she was eligible. Son and mother were placed in side by side niches without additional cost to the family.

Other more contemporary placements such as niches along a cemetery walkway or base of a statue or even being part of a reef placed in the ocean. Creative thinking can solve this indecision.

Dealing with Cremated Remains by Daniel M. Isard

I have a very dear friend whose mother was dying. Not understanding what I did for a living, but knowing it was in the funeral profession, she called me to help her plan her mother’s disposition. She wanted her mother’s body to be cremated. We went through the process of planning the funeral service.

Before the cremation I asked, “Mary, who do you want to take possession of your mother’s cremated remains?” She said, “Oh we don’t want them. Just tell the funeral director to do something with them!” I said, “The funeral home can place them in a cemetery for perpetual keeping or give them to you to dispose of as you see fit.”

Many consumers don’t care what happens to the cremated remains of their loved one’s body. There are added decisions they don’t want to deal with. These cremated remains can be converted into diamonds or potting soil but the consumer doesn’t want to make that decision.

One technique that I have found to be successful involves building out the cremation authorization to include the return of the cremated remains. The family is told that they can either pick-up the cremated remains from the funeral home or the funeral home can deliver the cremated remains to the appointed family member. The key points are the date range for the retrieval.

Offering Guidance on Cremation Options by Mark Zimmer

We acquired firm a few years ago, and during our due diligence, discovered a cupboard containing 16 cremated remains that were unclaimed. They had two crypts at a local cemetery into which the unclaimed urns were entombed, reopened as needed to add others. While this is an effective way of placing unclaimed urns in an accessible place, it is costly and in my opinion, not an option one wishes to exercise!

We have all read the professional journal articles suggesting that the funeral director needs to offer guidance to families. I agree and feel it is imperative to discuss what the family’s decision on final placement of the cremated remains will be at the arrangement conference. In the arrangement conference I have heard such remarks as, “don’t you get rid of them?” and “I never thought of that!”

Winter time in Wisconsin can be brutal. Frost can go as deep as 5 feet, with 25 inches of snow on the surface. Families who desire a service in January many times wish to postpone any committal or military honors until spring. They also feel uncomfortable about keeping their loved ones cremated remains at home.

It occurred to me some time ago that we needed to create an option for those at-need families who were not sure of what to do with the cremated remains. Our firm developed an “Urn Repository” which holds cremated remains on agreement with the family regarding final placement, how long the urn will remain at our firm, and how we will contact the family regarding a service at a later date. We then track aging, just like receivables, and send reminders as well as phone calls. It is a system that has proven effective!


Lending your company’s authority and your personal experience guides families to made decisions to honor their loved ones in a meaningful way. Working together to honor families’ wishes and ensure the deceased is properly cared for is paramount to CANA’s Code of Cremation Practice. It’s our duty as a service industry to find balance and peace for our communities.

Members can read the full article with complete introduction and additional solutions from Chris Farmer of The Farmer Firm in Vol. 52, No. 2 Issue of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.

Steven Palmer

Steven Palmer entered funeral service in 1971. A funeral director in Massachusetts and California, he purchased the Westcott Funeral Homes in Arizona in 1997. He is a past president of the Arizona Funeral Directors Association and current National Funeral Directors Association Policy Board Representative for Arizona. He has been a columnist for the Nomis Funeral & Cemetery News (former YB News) since 1996 and has contributed to other funeral service publications.


Dan Isard

Dan Isard, MSFS, is a writer, educator, and management and financial consultant. He is the president of The Foresight Companies LLC, a Phoenix-based business and management consulting firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, valuations, accounting, financing HR services, and family surveys. He can be reached at 800-426-0165 or danisard@f4sight.com. Connect with Isard and The Foresight Companies by following them on Twitter at @f4sight or on Facebook.


Mark Zimmer

Mark Zimmer, President of Zimmer Funeral Homes, Inc., attended Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago in 1977. Mark moved to the Sheboygan area in 1983 after purchasing the former Ahrens Funeral Home in Howards Grove. In 1996, he acquired the former Gerend-Habermann Funeral Home in Sheboygan. In 2003, work was completed on the new 8500-sq.-ft. Westview Funeral & Cremation Care Center. Mark is a past president of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association and a past president of the Lakeshore Funeral Directors Association.

Tags:  aftercare  consumers  memorialization  tips and tools 

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3 Simple and Effective Aftercare Touches (you may not be doing!)

Posted By CANA, Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Aftercare Touches You May Not be Doing

 

In the face of continued growth in cremation, CANA applies more than 100 years of experience to help funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories seize this opportunity to build their businesses by nimbly shifting to a customer-centric approach. Simply stated, service does not begin when you get a call and it does not end when we return the cremated remains to the family. By incorporating some simple touches and tools, you can create a more personal relationship with your families in the aftercare process.

  1. Good Old Fashioned Correspondence, like a hand-written note.
  2. Create Engaging Events for your clients to attend such as an art/paint night party or host a mystery author/book event.
  3. Build your Brand by Dividing and Conquering – by training your team members to be extensions of your business.


Foundation PartnersWith thanks to Kitty Alexander, Community Outreach & Marketing Manager for Foundation Partners Group, for her invaluable insight.


Members can read more techniques in Vol. 53, No. 1 Issue of The Cremationist and make use of our new PR Toolkit for planning your community outreach strategies.

Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice from the only association who focuses exclusively on cremation families – only $470!

Tags:  aftercare  consumers  tips and tools 

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